A poster is a sheet of printed paper of any size intended to be attached to a wall or vertical surface. Posters include both visual and text elements, although a poster may be either completely graphical or totally text. Posters are designed to be eye-catching while communicating vital information.
Posters, in the form of placards and posted bills, have been used since earliest times for advertising and announcements. Purely textual posters have a long history: they advertised the plays of Shakespeare and made citizens aware of government proclamations for centuries. However, the great revolution in posters was the development of printing techniques that allowed for cheap mass production.
By the 1890s, the lithography had spread throughout Europe. A number of noted artists created poster art in this period, including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Jules Chéret. Chéret is said to have introduced sex in advertising or, at least, to have exploited the feminine image as an advertising device.
By the 1890s, poster art had widespread usage in other parts of Europe, advertising everything from bicycles to bullfights. By the end of the 19th century, the standing of the poster as a serious art form was raised even further. Between 1895 and 1900, Jules Chéret created a series that became not only a commercial success, but is now seen as an important historical publication.
In the United States, posters did not evolve to the same artistic level. American posters were primarily directed towards basic commercial needs to deliver a written message. However, the advent of the travelling circus brought colorful posters to tell citizens that a carnival was coming to town. But these too were very commercially utilitarian, of average quality, and few saw any real artistic creativity.
For your viewing pleasure, we present a selection of some of the better-known posters from the annals of history.
The Works Progress Administration (renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration; WPA) was the largest New Deal agency, employing millions of workers to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads, and operated large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects. Disbanded in 1943 as a result of high employment due to the industry boom of World War Two, the WPA had provided millions of Americans with jobs for 8 years.
Smokey Bear (AKA Smokey the Bear or Smokey) is the mascot of the United States Forest Service created to educate the public about the dangers of forest fires. An advertising campaign featuring Smokey began in 1944 with the slogan, “Smokey Says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires”. Smokey Bear’s later slogan, “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires”, was created in 1947 by the Ad Council. In April 2001, the message was updated to “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires”. According to the Ad Council, Smokey Bear and his message are recognized by 95% of adults and 77% of children in the U.S.
Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon of the United States, representing the American women who worked in factories during World War II, many of whom worked in the manufacturing plants that produced munitions and war supplies. These women sometimes took entirely new jobs replacing the male workers who were in the military. The character is considered a feminist icon in the U.S.
J. M. Flagg‘s 1917 poster, based on the original British Lord Kitchener poster of three years earlier, was used to recruit soldiers for both World War I and World War II. Flagg used a modified version of his own face for Uncle Sam, and veteran Walter Botts provided the pose. The face also bears resemblance to the real Samuel Wilson.
A 1914 recruitment poster depicting Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener above the words “WANTS YOU” was the most famous image used in the British Army recruitment campaign of World War I. The poster was designed by Alfred Leete and had first appeared as a cover illustration for London Opinion, one of the most influential magazines in the world, on 5 September 1914.
Concerts are another widespread use of posters; this is one of the most memorable examples.
Movie posters are probably the most widely distributed examples of the medium today. A typical “One Sheet” contains the “Key Art” and the critical positioning of the actors. It is interesting to note that the use of extremely condensed type is required to squeeze in all of the credits demanded by contracts and agreements between producers, directors and many other crew members.
A famous WWII era propaganda poster that captured America’s attention was this motivational effort to keep critical information secret.
A 1969 Peter Max poster used in libraries across America to promote reading.